Cass Gilbert was an American architect born on November 24, 1859, in Zanesville, Ohio. He was born the middle of three sons and was named after the statesman Lewis Cass, to whom he was distantly related. He moved to St. Paul with his family in 1868 and began his architectural career at the age of 17 by joining the Abraham M. Radcliffe office in St. Paul. In 1878, Gilbert enrolled in the architecture program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He completed one year of the two-year program and worked briefly as a draftsman for the noted New York City Architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White before leaving for his ‘Grand Tour “of Europe.
After returning from Europe, Gilbert worked for several architectural firms before opening his own practice in St. Paul in 1882. He was commissioned to design a number of railroad stations, including those in Anoka Willmar and the extant Little Falls Depot, all in Minnesota. As a Minnesota architect, he was best known for his design of the Minnesota State Capitol and the downtown St. Paul Endicott Building. His goal was to move to New York City and gain a national reputation, but he remained in Minnesota from 1882 until 1898. Many of his Minnesota buildings are still standing, including more than a dozen private residences (especially those on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue), several churches featuring rich textures and colors, resort summer homes, and warehouses.
He quickly established himself as one of the leading architects in the region and began receiving commissions for public buildings such as courthouses and state capitols. Having attracted national attention by his design for the Minnesota state capitol, St. Paul (built 1896–1903), he moved to New York City. In addition to the Woolworth Building, his major works in New York included the U.S. customhouse (1899–1905); in a Renaissance style with Germanic detail and the federal courthouse (completed 1936). For some years the 60-story (792-foot) Woolworth skyscraper, with its lacy Gothic detail in terra-cotta over a steel frame, was regarded as a model of tall commercial building design and is still a favorite with the public.
In Washington, D.C., Gilbert built the U.S. Treasury Annex (1918–19), as well as the Supreme Court Building, the monumentality of which is sometimes felt to be oppressive. He also planned the campuses of the Universities of Minnesota (Minneapolis) and Texas (Austin)
Gilbert was an acknowledged leader of the architectural profession in the United States during a period in which monumental architecture predominated. He was also a pioneering advocate for incorporating skyscrapers into structures. Conscientious and prosperous, he was an acknowledged leader of the architectural profession in the United States during a period in which monumental architecture predominated.
Gilbert was married twice. His first wife was Julia Finch, and his second wife was Hazel Huntington. He had six children from his first marriage. Gilbert died on May 17, 1934, in Brockenhurst, Hampshire, England.
Gilbert made many significant contributions to the field of architecture. He was one of the first celebrity architects in the United States and is known for his traditional style and regal proportions seen in many of the nation’s finest public buildings.
Gilbert was a pioneer of Beaux-Arts architecture, which is a lavish combination of Renaissance and Baroque styles. His high-rise buildings injected great vitality into early skyscraper design. He was also an early proponent of skyscrapers, and his works include many notable examples of this type of architecture.
Gilbert saw a building as something more than an economic entity or a pure shape; to him, architecture was about both of these things, but primarily it was a symbol of a client’s aspirations. He believed that architecture should be expressive and that it should reflect the values and ideals of the people who commissioned it.
Cass Gilbert was an architect who had a vision. That vision led him to create the Woolworth Building in New York City. He is a testament to our ability to turn an idea into reality. At Scarano Architect, PLLC, we have been turning your dreams into reality for over 30 years. Please feel free to call us for all your architectural needs.